How Ballet Keeps Us On Our Toes

In Ballet Class: An American History, Rowan professor Melissa Klapper traces the social history of a ubiquitous art form.

melissa klapper ballet class

At a time when participating in group activities feels like a distant memory, Melissa Klapper’s latest tome explores a communal experience of American childhood: ballet lessons. In Ballet Class: An American History (Oxford University Press), Klapper, a professor at Rowan University for 20 years, traces the social history of recreational ballet classes throughout the 20th century. 

Across the country, millions of children have donned leotards, learned the five basic foot positions and practiced at a barre—including Klapper, who took lessons for 14 years. 

“Nobody knows when a five-year-old comes into a studio that that person will end up being Maria Tallchief or Misty Copeland,” says Klapper. “Everyone starts off in the same way.”

[RELATED: How This Director Brings Extra Energy to Ballet Productions]

In her book, Klapper examines the art form’s intersections with race, gender roles, class issues and body image. She delves into ballet’s representation in pop culture and the impact of Title IX on the activity.

“Ballet class is, in some ways, both a reflection and a mirror for American society and culture,” says Klapper. “Writing a history of ballet classes is also writing a history of America, including the ugliness, but also the beauty.”

Klapper currently is the coordinator of the Women’s and Gender Studies program at Rowan. Her previous three books focused on children and Jewish women. She earned her doctorate from Rutgers University.

When talking about Ballet Class, Klapper points out that many students develop a deep appreciation for ballet during lessons. “[It’s] really important,” she says, “that there’s this relationship between ballet training and the actual art form.”

Read more Arts & Entertainment articles.

By submitting comments you grant permission for all or part of those comments to appear in the print edition of New Jersey Monthly.

Required not shown
Required not shown